The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

Finalist, National Book Awards 2020 for Fiction

ISBN 9781949199734
West Virginia University Press
Deesha Philyaw

Deesha Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, Apogee Journal, Barrelhouse, Baltimore Review, Cheat River Review, Electric Literature, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. More about this author >

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From the publisher:

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions. There is fourteen-year-old Jael, who has a crush on the preacher’s wife.

At forty-two, Lyra realizes that her discomfort with her own body stands between her and a new love. As Y2K looms, Caroletta’s “same time next year” arrangement with her childhood best friend is tenuous. A serial mistress lays down the ground rules for her married lovers. In the dark shadows of a hospice parking lot, grieving strangers find comfort in each other.

With their secret longings, new love, and forbidden affairs, these church ladies are as seductive as they want to be, as vulnerable as they need to be, as unfaithful and unrepentant as they care to be, and as free as they deserve to be.

Judges Citation

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies heralds the arrival of Deesha Philyaw. Her debut collection revels in the beautiful mess of life, depicting generations of Black women navigating love, sex, death, family, and faith through the sanctuary and structures of the church. In a veritable showcase of narratives, each of Philyaw's stories explores these complex drives and the ways they resonate deeply within the community of her characters and the universal well of human experience.